Andis Woodlief went from losing her small business to earning her M.S. in construction administration to landing her current role at the leading construction firm Tutor Perini. "It was a role I never would have had without that degree," she tells us in a cafe near her Hudson Yards office.
For ten years, she owned a small business that provided materials to the construction industry in New York City. In 2008, she lost that company. "I had learned a lot about construction in my years providing materials," she says, "but in order to be effective, I needed to have better skills."
She entered Columbia's M.S. program in construction administration that same year. She attended school at night and started a consulting business that she managed during the day. When asked how she balanced work, school, and family, she says with a laugh, "I didn't balance it very well!" She accelerated her program, taking three classes per semester for two years and graduating one semester early. "It was difficult but invigorating at the same time," she says.
She enjoyed the rigor of her coursework: "The curriculum was a mixture of lectures, presentations, class work, tests, and group projects. Almost every course had a group project. It was terrific preparation for the real world; that's the way we do construction – as a team." What she found most valuable was the building information modeling (BIM) training, which gave her a comprehensive understanding of the technical aspects of construction.
By enrolling in and graduating from Columbia, she accomplished not just her professional goals but her personal goals as well. "It helped me be a role model for my children," she says. "When they saw their middle-aged mother lose her company, they saw that I got right back on the horse. I worked hard, and I've carved out a niche for myself."
Now she uses the knowledge and connections that she gained from Columbia to help others carve out their own niches, too. In February, landed a role as diversity director for Tutor Perini, a leading construction firm. Among their clients is the developer for Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in the history of the U.S. "I make sure that companies that are owned by women and people of color have opportunities to work on our projects," she says.
"Diversity is an important part of the New York culture," she says, and she wants to reflect that diversity in the mixture of people who are building new corners of the city from the ground up.
Moreover, she is bringing tuition-free BIM training to small businesses who can't afford the Columbia education that she received. "The smaller firms don't have opportunities to learn that AutoDesk program. That's a barrier to entry for them." So, with help from Columbia, she created a successful tuition-free pilot program for BIM training. Now in its third semester, the training program is offered through the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen and – as a result of grants from City of New York and AutoDesk – remains tuition-free.
As Woodlief continues to champion small businesses, the connections which she has fostered in New York City continue to champion her. A senior vice president at Tutor Perini has taken her on as his protégée. "It's great to find somebody who can take the time to teach you the rules that aren't written – especially the ones that sometimes women don't get." She adds, "Though maybe some men don't get them, either."